What is time? Isaac Newton described it as absolute, but Einstein proved that time is relative, and, shockingly, that time and space are intricately interwoven. Now recent work in string theory and quantum gravity suggests that space and time may not be fundamental. If this is true, what new picture of reality will emerge? These questions and more were explored in the 2015 World Science Festival program “Time Is of the Essence … or Is It?” moderated by author Jim Holt and featuring physicist and philosopher David Z. Albert, theoretical physicist Vijay Balasubramanian, theoretical physicist and cofounder of the loop approach to quantum gravity Carlo Rovelli, and theoretical physicist and founding faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics Lee Smolin.
Some people who have lost their vision find a “second sight” taking over their eyes – an uncanny, subconscious sense that sheds light into the hidden depths of the human mind.
Daniel was adamant that he could not see a thing, yet somehow his unconscious mind was guiding him correctly”
The non-conscious mind acts as the puppet master, pulling the strings without their knowledge.
Some philosophers have gone as far as to claim that we could be little more than “zombies” acting on mostly unconscious impulses.
This, in turn, begins to cast doubt on some long-held assumptions about the very nature, and purpose, of consciousness. After all, it is by no means certain that other animals have a rich inner life like us, so it must have emerged for some reason. Previously, psychologists had proposed that we have a kind of “spotlight of attention” that sweeps over our vision, and when it lands on an object, the object pops into consciousness. In this way, our heightened awareness helps highlight the most important parts of a scene, giving us the chance to respond.
Except Robert Kentridge at the University of Durham has evidence to suggest this too may be wrong. His insight came when he was talking to a blindsight subject in between some of the basic visual tests, in which he flashed different images at different parts of the blind spot. The subject had said that he thought he would do better if we were told where, in the blind spot, the image would appear. “It seemed very strange,” says Kentridge – since they have no awareness of what is in their blind spots, they shouldn’t be able to focus their attention there. “It’s as if you were trying to direct attention around the back of head – you shouldn’t be able to do it,” he says.
World Science Festival: In this program, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and revered public intellectual Steven Weinberg speaks about science and history, drawing from his book “To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science.” Beginning with a short account on where science and intellectual thought rank in modern society compared to other modes of thought, Professor Weinberg goes on to paint a new and compelling picture of the development of scientific thought and exploration in a conversation moderated by Peabody Award-winning journalist John Hockenberry.
This program was presented in collaboration with the New-York Historical Society.
Some scientists argue that human uniqueness is the result of two primary features: one, that we are a powerful species, and two, that we gained our power rapidly. In this clip from the 2015 World Science Festival program “Planet of the Humans: The Leap to the Top,” molecular biologist Paul Bingham attempts to account for both of these features through an approach known as “social coercion theory,” which posits that humans control the conflicts of interest among non-kin to engage in large-scale social cooperation.
Cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman is trying to answer a big question: Do we experience the world as it really is … or as we need it to be? In this ever so slightly mind-blowing talk, he ponders how our minds construct reality for us.